Theodish Thoughts

Musings on Theodism, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary Heathenry

Month: February 2016

Local and communal ritual

Some rituals are meant to be done in the company of one’s friends, neighbors, and tribesmen, and some are meant to be done in the company of one’s immediate family. Over the years, Asatru has tended to conflate the two, so that we end up celebrating rituals together as a group that don’t really make sense. When planning rituals with my tribe, I like to differentiate between those that are most appropriately celebrated together as a tribe (i.e., communally) and those that are most appropriately celebrated separately, as individuals or as families (i.e., locally).

This differentiation was most definitely known in pre-Christian times. Events like Disting which featured a blot to the Disir:

In Svithjod it was the old custom, as long as heathenism prevailed, that the chief sacrifice took place in Goe month at Upsala. Then sacrifice was offered for peace, and victory to the king; and thither came people from all parts of Svithjod. (Saga of Olaf Haraldson, part II)

The well-known national sacrifices at Uppsala fall into this category as well, as do the “big three” sacrifices that Snorri mentions in Ynglingatal, as we see in other sources that these were communal holidays at Winternights, Yule, and Summer-meal:

On winter day there should be blood-sacrifice for a good year, and in the middle of winter for a good crop; and the third sacrifice should be on summer day, for victory in battle. (Ynglingasaga 8)

It makes sense that communal holidays would be celebrated for things like the harvest (Haustblot, or Autumn sacrifice), because the bounty of the harvest can be transported to a central site for the celebration. Contrast that to a celebration of planting, however; it’s not possible for each farmer to bring the fields together so they can be blessed! And that’s where the differentiation between communal and local ritual comes in.

Where some rites lend themselves to communality, others lend themselves to locality. Rites relating to the planting of crops, for instance, such as those mentioned by Bede in relation to the plow blessing, the crop-blessing charms that have survived to us, There is also the Alfablot, which we are explicitly told was celebrated by individual households, and outsiders were not welcome:

At dark to Hof we drifted.
The door was barred; so before it
I stood, knocking, and steadfast
stuck in my nose, pluckily.
Gruffly answer they gave us:
“Get you gone!” and threatened
us all: ‘t was heathen-holy.
To hell with all those fellows!

The following evening he came to another farm. There the woman of the house stood in the door and forbade them to come in, saying they had the sacrifice to the elves inside. (Austrfararvísur, Hollander tr.)

The fact that two farms within walking distance were each performing the rite separately would seem an excellent indication that there were indeed some rites, such as the Alfablot, which were practiced individually, if at the same time. We also see this in some of the many traditions around Yule, such as giving the house-wight his fee, or offering the feast to the Mothers.

In modern Asatru, I think this has great implications. Many Asatru groups will gather communally to celebrate holiday that were originally celebrated on a household level. Part of the problem is the lack of awareness of the fact that it’s perfectly okay, indeed preferable, that some aspects of worship be done privately, between one’s immediate family and the gods or elves. Similarly with agricultural celebrations designed to increase or guarantee the fertility of the fields (such as the charming of the plow many recently celebrated), there’s nothing wrong with a family doing so on their own garden (or farm if they’re lucky enough to have something larger than a mere garden), rather than everyone getting together to do so “symbolically” for everyone, or for the land in general. There’s a time for doing so, as Snorri tells us, and that’s at Yule, communally.

One way groups can still incorporate these local rites and rituals into their communal religious experience is to agree on a day when everyone in the tribe or kindred will perform them, and perhaps come up with a ritual script (or at least ritual outline) that they all share. Communicating that information out well in advance, to let everyone coordinate and plan for the day, would be very helpful on a practical level.

I see a place for getting together for ritual, and a place for performing ritual apart (even if it is done on the same day, recognizing the sacrality of the timing communally). Too many Asatruar get caught up in the “we should be doing everything together” mindset that it’s easy to forget that there was a place for both prior to the coming of Christianity.

You can take your umbrella and…

Not Asatru

Asatru is not the same as, or part of, Neopaganism, period. It’s time to acknowledge that and move on.

There are, to be sure, some similarities, both theological and practical. We’re both polytheistic. We both find ourselves as relatively new religions (at least in a contiguous sense) in a culture that is dominated by Christianity and/or materialistic secularism, depending on who you ask. We’ve come into being and grown up mostly at the same time (in North America, at least). Some Neopagans worship Germanic deities, or at least occasionally include them in their rituals. A lot of newcomers, not knowing any better, find Neopaganism first and then eventually realize that Asatru is an option. Both movements are struggling to gather the resources and numbers necessary to provide the sort of basic infrastructure that even the dirt-poorest Christian church in Appalachia takes for granted. Like a place to meet that’s not someone’s living room or back yard.

But culturally, politically, and on many issues of theology, we’re polar opposites, and it’s high time folks on both sides admit the chasm exists, shake hands, and walk away from a relationship that many on one side never wanted in the first place, and some on the other side are now saying, “wow, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all”.

Sikhs are pagans? That will
come as a shock to them…

Part of the problem stems from Neopaganism’s inherently eclectic nature. Over-enthusiastic Neopagans tend to want to bring everything that’s not Christianity, Islam, or Judaism under their “umbrella”, using the rationale that, since a Neopagan ritual could include Odin, or Kwan Yin, or Coyote, that makes Asatru, traditional Chinese religion, or Native American religion Neopagan, too.

The fact that this is a logical fallacy, and is often done over the strenuous objections of the practitioners of the faiths being dragged under the “Neopagan umbrella”, is irrelevant to the holders of the umbrella. It makes the Neopagans feel better about themselves (because they’re being “inclusive”), and allows them to artificially inflate their numbers. I actually wrote about this several years ago, as part of a larger discussion about pagan identity: Is there a “Pagan community”?, At least we all worship the Goddess, right?, and We’re all in this together.

I came to the conclusion that there really is no such thing as a Pagan community. I stand by that conclusion, and would take it a step further to say, “…and even if there were, Asatru isn’t part of it.”

So when some BNN* says that There are Some People I don’t Want Under the Umbrella, my reaction is, FINALLY! We never wanted to be under your umbrella in the first place! Just because you rip off some deity names, start making up your own runes, and a take few myths from their ethno-cultural context† that we happen to share doesn’t make you us, nor does it make us a subset of you. And fuck you for trying to make us.

Similarly, when another BNN says Racism Cannot Be Tolerated, aside from saying, well, DUH! We’ve been fighting the folkish-vs.-racist fight since the 1970’s, where have you been? We would also say, you don’t really have any standing to tell us what to do, any more than you could assume that lecturing the Mormon Church on aspects of their doctrine would have any meaning to them whatsoever. I’m not the only person to have made this point.

We don’t want to be under your fucking umbrella. We never have before, and we don’t want to now.

Neopagan, you’re an outsider to us, and we value the inangard/utangard distinction. You tend to be overwhelmingly liberal politically, where we tend to be conservative/libertarian (there are exceptions on both sides, of course). You are eclectic to the point of appropriation or even cultural genocide, whereas we stick to our own ethno-cultural heritage. Historically, you’re based on 19th century ceremonial magic and an invented persecution myth, while we’re a reconstructionist faith that values academic rigor and, you know, historical sources.

But more to the point, you feel entitled to tell everyone else, especially those you have dragged under your “Pagan umbrella” or “Big Pagan Tent” or whatever, how they should practice their religion. You think slapping your label on our faith gives you the right to say that merely saying ancestry is relevant to religion is something to be not only condemned, but enough to ostracize people.

Riddle me this: How can you ostracize someone who doesn’t want to be part of your group in the first place?

Kenny Kline. Google him.

You don’t see Asatruar making pearl-clutching posts about the (very real) rampant pedophilia problem within Neopaganism, and demanding that prominent Neopagan leaders who either actively condoned it or turned a blind eye be tossed out. You know why? It’s not our business. It’s not our religion, it’s not our problem. It’s your house, your mess, and it’s up to you to clean it up. We might call out the specific instances as being horrific (which they absolutely are), but as a community, it’s not for us to “tsk-tsk” your community as a whole about it and start demanding outlawry. But Neopagans seem perfectly content to do so to us, and in the process side with SJW fanatics who erroneously conflate being folkish with being racist, making it all the harder for us on the folkish side to combat the real racists.

There are many, many evils in the world being done under the banner of religion, all much worse than saying “you worship the gods of your ancestors, and we’ll worship ours”. Where’s the Neopagan outrage over present-day Islamic slavery? Let’s see the calls from Jason Mankey or John Beckett insisting that king Salman of Saudi Arabia or king Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar be ostracized. Maybe it’s because you haven’t tried to drag them under your umbrella.

We don’t want to be under your umbrella. We never have, and we don’t now. Asatru is one religion, and Neopaganism and Wicca is another (or a whole bunch of others; I really don’t care, any more than I care if Catholicism and Mormonism are different religions).

So please. Take your umbrella and…


* Big Name Neopagan

† Yes, there are some who call themselves Asatru who deny the “ethno-” half of that word. I’ll discuss them in a separate article.

Review: A Book of Troth (2016)

The 1989 edition

When Edred Thorsson’s A Book of Troth was first published in 1989, it was a watershed moment for American Heathenry. Here was a well-written, comprehensive book on Asatru, written by someone with a relevant PhD, published by the largest Pagan book publisher in the country, Llewellyn. In fact, the book kicked off a whole “Llewellyn Teutonic Magick Series” in the 1990’s (including Kveldulf Gunarsson’s “Teutonic Magic” and “Teutonic Religion”). Anyone who wanted to could buy books on Asatru in any chain or Pagan bookstore.

But, sadly, it was not to last. The Teutonic Magick series was cancelled in favor of more Goddess- and Wiccan oriented works, and A Book of Troth went out of print.

The 2003 edition

In 2003, there was a new edition of the book, updated to reflect certain organizational realities (Edred was no longer head of the Ring of Troth, after a bitter and public dispute) and published by Runa-Raven Press. Alas, it was plagued by few people knowing about the reprint, and then the dissolution of Runa-Raven in 2012. Once again, the first mainstream book on Asatru was unavailable, except second-hand at exorbitant prices.

Now, however, a new edition has been published by Runestone Press, and it certainly does the work justice. The work has been completely re-edited and laid out anew in a refreshingly modern typeface (it’s a somewhat smaller typeface than the original edition, and the book is physically larger, which accounts for the difference in page counts between them). All of the illustrations have been redone in a more professional manner, or replaced with b&w photographs (as in the case of altar layouts).

There are two new pieces of additional material added to this edition; a forward by Asatru Folk Assembly Allsherjargodi Stephen McNallen, and an appendix with an essay by Thorsson; “The Idea of Integral Culture: a Model for Revolt Against the Modern World” that originally appeared in the journal Tyr in 2002. While the new edition differs drastically from the original 1989 edition, it takes its cue in this direction from the 2003 edition, which excised references to the Ring of Troth (now known simply as “The Troth”) and replaced them in a few instances with rather unflattering references, or changed the Troth-as-an-organization-specific text to a more general application. But even then, the new edition has gone through a complete cycle of editing, and minor tweaks to the text to improve readability are evident throughout.

The 2016 edition

This is a book intended for newcomers to Asatru, and as such it covers all the basics one could ask for. There are chapters on the nature of the soul, the gods, holy tides and rites of passage, wyrd and ethics, including the Sixfold Goal and Nine Noble Virtues, as well as ritual scripts that can be used by groups or individuals. Naturally, there is much more here as well, but suffice to say that this book provides the beginner (or even an old-timer) with all they would need on a practical level. It is of course a product of its times, and the author’s antipathy towards Christianity is evident throughout, as is his adherence to Dumézilian theory. I personally don’t consider those to be flaws, per se, but they should be noted.

In this way, the choice of this book for Runestone Press’ second outing is clear. It serves as a perfect complementary work to McNallen’s Asatru: A Native European Spirituality (reviewed here), which was published last year. Where McNallen’s book serves as a philosophical justification of, and even demand for, Asatru in the modern world, Thorsson’s book serves as the toolkit by which that call can be fully implemented on a practical level, from ethics to metaphysical understanding to ritual work, and sets the stage for those who wish to undertake an even more intense investigation into the lore of the Germanic peoples.

Having this book back in print is something that has been sorely lacking in modern Asatru. It’s wonderful to see it returned in such a well-produced way, that still manages, despite being a third edition, to bring substantive improvements to the work in such a way that those who own one or both of the previous versions will still find this one to be of great value. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Chapter List: Troth; The Way; Elder History; The Newer History; The Shape of the World; Lore; The Way of Doing; Giving; The Holy Year; The Folk; The Gods and Goddesses; The Ladder of Being; The Truth of the Gods; The Earth and the World; In the Nights of Yore; The Edge of the Sword; The Soul; Rebirth; Wyrd; Holy Tokens; The Right Way; Into the Unknown; True Work; Tools and Setting; Ways of Working; Nightly Workings; Workings of the Life Tides; Kindred Workings; the Great, Greater, and Greatest Blessings of Troth; On Affiliating with a True Organization; On Becoming an Elder in the Lore; Glossary; Bibliography; and Appendix (as noted above).

Review: “The Outsiders” television series

Foster Ferrell, would-be leader of the clan

So far I’ve seen two episodes of WGN’s new drama “The Outsiders” (playing on Tuesday at 9 PM, at least where I am). It may seem a bit odd to read a review of a television show about Kentucky hillbillies on a Heathen website, but I submit there’s a lot in this show for Heathens to like. In fact, I think of this show as a hillbilly version of The Wicker Man.

The show revolves around the Ferrell clan (I’m sure the homonym with “feral” is completely intentional), who live in their hundreds on a mountain in Kentucky that an evil coal mining company has gotten legal title to. The company wants the local authorities to kick the Ferrells off the mountain so they can strip-mine it to get the coal that lies beneath. Thus lay the chief conflict of the show, but it is by far not the only one.

A love triangle waiting to blow up

The performances are quite good, and there are enough layers of conflict to keep me interested. There are factions within the Ferrells (including a power struggle for control of the clan, love-triangle-induced strife between a “cousin” who had left the mountain and returned, and others), the coal company is obviously being two-faced in its dealings with the local sheriff as well as the townspeople, the chief deputy obviously has his own agenda going on, and there are the ever-present tensions between the townspeople and the Ferrells in general (certain to be exasperated by a burgeoning romance between a Ferrell and a black girl he happens to meet while raiding the town for goods). There are lots of room for conflict, and those conflicts are interwoven quite well.

Lady Ray, matriarch and magic-worker

But what really excites me about this show is the obvious everyday paganism of the Ferrells.

There are prophecies, and the Appalachian folk-magic is thickly spread around. There are “healers” who deal with poultices and herbs straight out of hoodoo, the titular leader of the clan, or “Bren’in”, Lady Ray (played by Phyllis Somerville) is deferred to and held to have magical powers that could have been seen in Veleda or Rosmerta, there is a sort of council of women and elders that have some undefined, and yet quite palpable, role in the administration of the clan, they hold what a modern Asatruar would call a folk-moot to decide issues of import, some of the townsfolk (including the aforementioned deputy) with some knowledge of the Ferrells make pronouncements such as “They know things the name of which we can’t even remember” (which I take to be a reference to land-spirits, elves, and the like), and the presumptive Bren’in, Foster Ferrell, even goes so far in the second episode as to mention “the gods” (with a most definite plural). It’s dripping with Heathenry, presented as un-self-conscious survivals. It’s just the way they do things, and it seems that the Enlightenment was “something that happened to other people”.

Little Foster, complete with elhaz tattoo (and others)

There is more than a little of the Wolves of Vinland to be found in the Bren’in clan, with their “pit fights” (jousts on ATV’s that seemed to me to be straight out of Knightriders) and a fierce independence combined with a love of family that is highlighted with the description of the wide world outside of the mountain: “That world down there is a prison—families don’t know how to look after each other.”

There’s more than a little Heathen mysticism going on in this show, and it goes way beyond Little Fosters runic tattoos. This is a society, nearly completely cut off from the modern world, that holds women in near-reverence for their mystical and prophetic powers, acknowledges and glorifies the natural masculinity of men, places faith in folk-magic remedies, resents intrusion from self-appointed authorities, and holds family and clan above all.

Tell me that doesn’t sound more than a little familiar.

(Photos courtesy WGN)

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